CW: amnesia, religion, religious education, meditation (negative results), disordered eating, suicidal ideation, derealization/depersonalization, masturbation, pornography, conspiracy

It wasn’t uncharacteristic, although it was unusual, for a Special Commissioner to be away from Elthazan at a place like Voidhanger Abbey, being served nootropic reed tea by novices walking with their eyes closed while waiting on a hard folded mat for the performance of a mock marriage ceremony.

What was unusual, and sharply alarming, was that she couldn’t remember why.

She knew the concrete details of her mission, what she was here to pry around for: she didn’t know its import, though with this many blanks in her memory she must have known at one point. For this information to be withheld from someone of her rank… that wasn’t just scary classified, it was nonsensical classified, there wasn’t enough higher for it to go. But then the Inquisitorial officer who had dispatched her from the door of the train - she remembered essentially nothing of her ride - with a sneer hedging somewhere between skepticism and contempt ranked lower than her in interagency. Had there been some kind of coup? Should she even be cooperating? (On the other hand, they had shown her her own handwriting consenting to both the wipe and the mission.) Would she be putting some innocent in danger by reporting every piece of information, official or unofficial, on or off record, she could find about a Lacriz Aeeth who had studied here, and also any developments, however secret, in rhi-Preserved magic?

Everyone who had taken the Applied Mysteries stream in military college had done decision exercises on cogitohazards, but nobody had ever heard of one.

The Master Superior who had agreed to answer her questions was now gracefully sliding their arms into the red-gold scaled sleeves of the Serpent vestment. Both partners, in this rare Silmenonian variant of the ceremony, practiced only here and in a few remote mountain villages (though it had recently been performed on national television for the engagement between two popular voice actors and there had been a round of controlled debates about its theological validity), would wear it. The bridal vestments awaited at the centre of the labyrinth of blue-white curtains, the outermost hung in the form of a two-lobed Silmenonian heraldic heart. It just looked like another vaulted arch, like the rows on either side of her, falling back into niches for statuary or iterating into ribbed corridors, from where she was sitting facing its point, but an overhead view was projected onto two limply hanging screens on either side of the altar, showing how the pristine colour of the exterior deepened in three layers to amaranthine and black. The movements of the lovers in the labyrinth, the brochure she had been given as if she were an ordinary visitor explained, could be studied as omens of future issues or dynamics in their relationship by a trained cleric.

Was there any such relationship to speak of between the Master Superior and the gulping novice being helped into the same robes, like in the novels the [ ] had read? Probably not - if anything they were probably each concealing somewhere on them an Oracle Card representing two entities in relationship, say the Abbey and the State.

How did she know what kind of novels her target read - (in what detail did she know what novels her target read) - and what had she just almost called them?

She straightened her back and tried to breathe this kind of thinking out of her mind. She didn’t know how to read the patterns the participants would trace blindly through the hangings that, bounded in that abstract ivy-leaf shape that in Silmenon had come to represent the heart rhi node (and in the rest of the world had become a ubiquitous subculture fashion icon through the influence of Silmenon anime), looked more like the folds of a brain. (The brochure said the petals of a rose, but everything in Silmenon was a rose.) For her, the ritual was meant to be a sort of meditation.

Even the turns of the hangings themselves had been determined by an elaborate oracular meditation, the brochure explained, the two Perfect Initiates walking in third-steps and turning at each twist of a prayer-wheel tuned to their own heart-rhi. Why did she keep thinking about that image with some sort of terror, picturing the wheel going out of control, creating a trap that could have no exit, a telltale heart…?

The organ ascended its arpeggios, self-similar with the percussive motifs of the metallophones, as Master and initiate circled the cloth toward their respective entrances, the younger man parting the curtains where the point of the heart faced the front of the altar to the sound of the gong, the older disappearing around the back.

Underneath it all, she could hear the rolling of the Grey Bay, deliberately echoed and amplified through the Abbey’s vaulting to a constant hush enforcing the silence of the acolytes and a subliminal metronome to synchronize their breathing.

The lights in the nave were dimmed to near extinction, so the initiates’ candles could be seen guiding layered clouds of colour through the labyrinth. Her eyes swam in them, following the golden fish of the acolyte’s torch, running her hands up and down her arms - it wasn’t a draft (although there were plenty), it wasn’t a fever, it wasn’t even the “chills” evoked in a rave review of a poetry special, it was the kind of frosty hollow one feels waiting for news of a family death on the job. (The labyrinth, with its darkness and candles, was inside her diaphragm; she wanted to wrap herself, for warmth, in the curtains.) If the Master Superior could see her rhi right now, what would he see? No sooner did it go quiet.

Something about the connection between these diaphanous hangings and the secrets of the heart seemed crystallinely intuitive, familiar as if she had come up with it independently as a child. Right, it wasn’t just intuitive but specifically, achingly nostalgic, even calling up other sensations it took the shock of scrutiny to separate from the present, an animal scent, an ache in her belly, an excitement and shame - she tried to recall old schoolgirl encounters she hadn’t thought of for years to see if there was any connection, maybe her trysts with Ayrgeon in the secret attics of Pontquarno castle, but no, those tapestries had a whole different weight and a hayfever dust…

The lights faded to dim stains behind their layers and the feeling only grew stronger.

She wanted to get up. Go inside. Bury her face in the soft coloured light. She could already do that, by looking. There was something more important on the other side.

Well, yes. That was the idea. There was the “innermost chamber of the heart”, the place the two lovers or initiates had to reach by passing through the shared yet separate labyrinth of themselves, in order to be united in marriage -or in this case, nothing more real or personal than two friends singing the chorus of a folk song together, it seemed strange to profane the ritual like this but “personal” did not exist here, the initiates of Voidhanger Abbey aspired to this level of unity and Order-Chaos, “spontaneous order”, that most people would only reach in the most important relationships of their lives as a matter of course, so they could perform this ritual as a meditation among other meditations which felt profane still, but since when did she have opinions on this backwater of theology? Ritual, she herself had argued, was mere imitation of the form of magic, a virtual halfway between the asymptotically unified poles of magic and piety… of course now she was going to sound culturally insensitive in her own head and throw off her integration with the space she had been assigned to investigate.

She hadn’t had intrusive thoughts like this since first form of military academy. That and the amnesia together were more likely related than not, and she had been trained not to think about it. She closed her eyes. She was in the best place in the world to meditate.

In the aftermath of amnesia, it was always easy. She just went into the grey blotch.

And yet the blue, white, red, black flame of the curtains flickered in the middle. Two shadows inside who couldn’t see each other.

Luskonneg couldn’t explain how little he thought, or felt about the call with the journalist over the following days, and didn’t want to think about it enough to. He had worried about some kind of public shaming but if the story went to print with what he had told her, he wouldn’t be able to distinguish it even reading it himself from any other vague thinkpiece about wasted youth or greentext about any other loser he read on 42chan - maybe a weird detail or two like the Zeparmide, but there wasn’t anything he identified with in them. From the sound of it, he hadn’t even given her enough for that, so she wanted to keep going, drag it out into some absurd documentary project of trying to improve his life. That should have been exciting, or terrifying, or humiliating, or something, right? That was the kind of thing that would happen in a manga, or a visual novel, or an anime like The Clover Association - which he’d dropped on the second episode since the convenient and uncute childhood friend the shut-in was obviously getting set up gave him a really boring monologue that sounded like it was ripped straight out of a government brochure. This lady wasn’t that bad, he had to tell himself, or he would just drop her. At the end of their call she had given him a set of meditation exercises.

He hadn’t done any of them. It had been six days. He was going to pretend he had, and use them as a jumping off point to complain about meditation. (Right, this was basically another DM friendship where he could complain in slightly longer form about things, fish some gloopy string of coherence out of his sludge of grievances without the pressure of making it funny or relatable or fitting into board culture. That was why he felt so nothing about it. How many times had he had this insight already - five?) The idea of sitting and observing his thoughts, for him, was like standing there and letting a bully just hit you over and over. (Something that had somehow never happened to him, as if he was below even their notice.) The idea that stand there long enough and they’d just give up for some reason was the same kind of adult wishful thinking. There was no reason his thoughts couldn’t keep going at it forever.

Not that there was any question of going at it forever. There were meals every day, and school, and eventually his mom would do something…

Well, none of that would happen now.

Now he could prove it, if he wanted to.

A chill opened down the middle of his gut like a crack in a glacier.

Marzanna didn’t want him to prove anything. In fact, she seemed pretty willing to believe anything he had to say (another thing that made her feel more like a forum acquaintance than a representative of the real world). The Miwa sutra that had appeared in his messages an hour later as an attachment - as simple and instructional as the worksheets he was used to, but written in blank verse - prescribed fifteen minutes a day. It was one of Yn Dahh’t’s internal special techniques, a special circulation designed to motivate reticent adolescents. The real deal.

Like that time.

But that time must have been a fluke, right?

Because if “real” meditation techniques, proven over and over by modern science and legitimized by the Ecclesia as compatible with the highest forms of Order, were harmful to him categorically - not just some technique in particular binding to the wrong receptor, not just the off-the-shelf stuff that only sorta worked not working, but something about the way it was supposed to work being Wrong, or impossible - then he really was doomed. The problem was beyond illness, beyond circumstance, it was him - anything he could possibly define himself as was the knot that had to be untied for Chaos to coil its way back to the egg of Order.

That was, after all, what he had concluded that time.

Had that conclusion, living with it, been any worse than his life now? Or the infinity of less rigorous, less compelling, less smooth, less permanent proofs that he should die? In a way the worst thing about that time was that after he had formed this perfect crystal at the centre of his mind, his perfect Order at last - and hadn’t even attempted, he could let it sit as long as he wanted to, unlike so many of his thoughts now it made no time-demands, it was infinitely patient - he’d been forced to break it. Even that answer had been wrong somehow. Maybe he was still picking up its pieces, these jagged new thoughts - which were no different from his jagged old thoughts, the ones he couldn’t remember a time before. There was no way to say if now there were more or less - but sometimes he’d sweep aside a piece of mental trash and feel a pang of guilt like it might have once been part of that precious thing and he’d never look close enough to know.

When he came back from the suspension (“you know that isn’t all you said” - but what else had he said? - he screamed at Mark’eg after fifteen minutes of failing to write it down on a notepad, and Mark’eg accepted his version of events) and a couple of equally embarrassing incidents, the Public Morals Committee put him on a Talking Fast specific to girls. He humiliated himself to a boy just as quickly. Theoretically boys, as the Chaotic gender, were supposed to be less morally vulnerable to unexpected attention. But this was a progressive school.

They found his journal of other people’s conversations. He asked Mark’eg to send a note explaining that it had been at his professional recommendation. Mark’eg explained that this would be breaching confidentiality.

He had almost been relieved. He could return to the path of least resistance which was playing his handheld at every break. Although he had just seen a meme on 42chan about how playing your handheld in public was cringe. He was already cringe, he was suspended and on a Talking Fast, but how could he ever come back from it if he played his handheld in front of people. Which he had already done, dozens of times, before he saw the meme.

His mom wanted him to do his work on his breaks, because he was spending more and more time at home watching anime, on the internet, and she was powerless to stop him without triggering one of his episodes (or hers - don’t try to shift blame). But now everyone would be suspicious of him if they saw him with his notepad open. The Public Morals Committee had snatched it out of his hands twice when he was trying to doodle fanart (not even lewd).

Dr. Mark’eg suggested meditation.

There was a meditation room, but it was rarely used for a reason. Due to some ill-advised reshuffling the year before Luskonneg enrolled it now sat directly under the woodshop room. The focus plants were poorly watered and attracted flies. And yet every time he tried to do something else in it, someone seemed to walk in or out.

One day after he had been up till 4:00 watching an anime where the main character ate lunch on the roof - there were a number of people he knew from eavesdropping did this but they weren’t the kinds of people who did it in anime at all - it occurred to him to wonder whether the gym building had its own roof entrance. From outside he could see a fence around it. The space under the gym bleachers, which he had been using occasionally to play his handheld, had by now been claimed by happy couples. But there was a door behind it to the storage room, and at the back of the storage room… His feet clanged dully on the thin metal steps on which he had to pause until he could prove in his head it would be nearly impossible to slip through the gaps. The peeled door at the top was unlocked, and he found himself alone facing the blue sky.

Still expecting someone to walk up on him, he sat and stared. The breathing - the Uninvented Circulation, two seconds in, two seconds held, two seconds out - almost came by itself.

That is, as soon as he looked out into that sky, he needed his breath just to hold it all in him. Like holding his breath and breathing between strokes in the school swimming pool. Except he could still barely manage that, the tingling rush of the water would cram its way into every sense no matter how tight he held his nostrils and then he couldn’t keep his nostrils separated from them, gasping through every rush of stinging shards because that was what he was made for, no longer making the distinction between them and his thoughts either. But this was what he imagined it felt like when he watched the girls in their school swimsuits disappear long enough that they couldn’t tell he was watching them. This slight thickening of the air, in the way the water itself was only a slight thickening of air, in the way the chlorine was only a slight thickening of the water. This blue thickened as if by chlorine. Why did it look like that. Just this morning it had looked as worn as the paint on the pool’s edge. Was it just because he had come out from under three hours of fluorescent lights and low ceilings. Or was there some haze near the ground that was thinner here.

It took about five minutes to get the hint that he wasn’t going to figure out what exactly he was reacting to and then his normal thoughts came back.

Or rather, his normal thoughts had something to respond to. These were…

They weren’t even bothering to form words at first. They were just like grey plastic knives of pain, replacing whatever ineffable qualities the sky he had been staring into had, carving them away.

Yes, the colour was different. But if he had to pick it out on a colour wheel, he could do so. If he had the dropper tool from Photoshop, he could pick out one pixel, and make a pixel of the same colour, and use it to colour a field. And even though the colour of the sky was not one field, it changed pixel by pixel.

And “depth”? It was painted across his retinas.

He couldn’t feel any “depth”.

Soon his belly started funnelling attention away from the rest of his body and he realized he hadn’t eaten. The idea had been, after all, to have lunch up here (were there any characters who meditated instead? he would look it up later). He had been so caught in the dilemma of where to sit and what to do he had forgotten about it entirely. Except his stomach felt heavy and bloated already - he had eaten the pack of five cookies he’d brought in his lunch bag, a compulsion whenever the dread of his breaktime decision surfaced from a break in class focus. (Not that he was staying focused - the effort to stay focused was a focus in itself, the steady flow of information producing an endless chain of new distractions.) A hard sludge seemed to push back against any response, either satisfying bounce or fold or pain, when he punched himself in the navel. He could feel it - taste it - the taste of no-taste, the taste of not-yet-shit - all the way up his esophagus.

He looked back with desperation at the sky. That had been a healthy viscosity, like blood, right? Chlorine was a purifier - except for humans, who for some reason weren’t supposed to drink it - if they weren’t supposed to drink the chlorinated water, or the unchlorinated water, why put chlorine in the water? or was it just to produce that nice smooth feel and nice sky blue? was the blue sky toxic too and that was why he was starting to feel sticky and toxic with his own focus? - if he had found this stairway maybe he could find the chlorine tanks for the pool and drink straight from them to clean out his clogged tract - ha ha, now that would be a way to go that would almost be funny enough to justify the effort.

Last night around 9:00, instead of doing his Theology homework (how he kept track of these things), he had been reading a thread where the majority of anons were goading someone with an eating disorder until it got shut down by the mods/censors. They had been talking about how to make yourself vomit.

Luskonneg had no idea if he could do this. Most of the time he attempted any type of self-harm described on the internet, he found himself flinching at the last instant. And nausea in particular seemed like a bottomless pit, one where the border from ordinary to altered existence was as mysterious as sleep, and Goddess help him if he thought about that too much. Nor did he want to develop a compulsion for girls.

He decided to start breathing again. Maybe the cleansing chemical from the sky would return.

Instead, just time. Abstract time - not even the satisfaction of a count, but numbers he had to start over. Repetitions, meaningless even on the level of number. And with every meaningless quantity of breath, the meaningless quantity of breathless thickness in his diaphragm built up.

Time as Currents lapping against him. Empty Currents, emptily bad Currents - what could these possibly be, theologically? Would he understand if he had paid any attention to his homework in the last three months? (He had two overdue assignments unstarted and was literally drawing pages of scribbles to keep his mom from looking closer - the words in the textbook didn’t sound like the things they were supposed to mean.) Tongues of Chaos lapping at him in the position of Order - but did that mean he was already inhabiting that centre? Did that mean the Serpent he was normally was something that ugly, a tongue he wanted to tear straight out of the throat of existence? Sandpaper tongues like cats, orifice probing tentacles. Neither Order nor a desire for it. Realer than they had, according to his 64-average grasp of orthodoxy, any right to be.

What was the difference between this and the meaninglessness of the sky he had failed to pin down before? Whatever it was it was utterly beyond his control in a positive sense, and utterly vulnerable to his control in a negative sense. He could destroy it, and he could not create it.

Maybe he had already created and destroyed it for the last time.

He tried to go back to breathing, but now he noticed the block with every drag which felt heavy and effortful, like hoisting stones from a well, and every draw would come with some new image of agony. So obviously devoid of context, though, they almost seemed gnarly and cool. He felt like one of those Miwa scrolls that showed monks beset by imps and cherubs.

Intellectually, he recognized this as the moment Mark’eg had described in terms of “noticing your thoughts and letting them pass”.

But that didn’t make them more interesting either. It was like watching a TV that was always changing channels. And yet they were also the same channel.

He looked back down at his lunch. All this noticing was making him hungrier, but not more willing to eat.

Half-intentionally, registering the pain and the fear as not much more than further images, he stuck a finger down his throat.

On second thought, it would be really hard to explain the things that happened back then. It would sound made up. He’d already learned that when he’d tried to ask about some of it on /mo/ while it was happening. He had actually gotten banned for LARPing, albeit by a janitor who was ousted a few years later for pushing his school’s agenda too hard, or at least that was what he had come to suspect and tell himself.

This journalist was Miwa-trained, though. He had watched her move and react in ways he had only seen in 3D in national televised demonstrations. Maybe she would finally be able to explain what he had done wrong. (Or maybe she would just recognize it as strange, unexplained, fucked up, like the Zeparmine thing… but what would that do? Did she want him to mount some kind of legal case against the universe? Was she going to uncover some conspiracy against every shut-in, like some of the heretical-adjacent incels claimed, proving once and for all that were it not for the schemes of certain hidden subversives the Order of the Sevenfold Alliance and the modern world truly was compatible with every random combination of genetic and psychological presets born into it?)

He ran through conversations in his head, most of them ending in humiliation and abandonment - and there it was, abandonment, even though he hadn’t been thinking about her at all, even to jack off to some scenario where she decided what he needed was some obscure sexual Rhi circulation, or just to get laid. He expected nothing, was getting nothing, but if he said the wrong thing he would lose everything all over again. Maybe he should just get it over with and cut it off himself. But then the power to start it all again would be in his hands like a naked wire.

Well, no point keeping his mind off it then. He stretched his middle fingers around the already thickening base of his cock.

In the bask of post-nut clarity he found himself adopting the Uninvented Circulation half-intentionally. Half-intention, that was the right way to get himself to do things like this, the only way. But he was about to attempt the very process that had once made it impossible. He decided if - or when - it started to bring back memories or symptoms he would write them down in a note on his computer. Something to show.

But rolling around awake like this (in his own dripping filth, in the algal sunlight, which made him think of Magical Helix Protozoonotikon and its best girl Slina, feel like Slina, if only Smilia was there with a latex glove to clean him up like she did Astig after she experimented on him, do you have gloves like that Marzanna Etnexheyr, do you use them in your experiments, if I meditate hard enough will you conduct them on me) was something he did anyway. It wasn’t that different from meditation the way people described it - if he told her about it would it count? He could notice his thoughts coming and going like water striders on a pond (when had he last, if ever seen those? was he just making up how they moved? no that one sakuga scene from Magical Helix - hello again, glint of Slina’s cameltoe, sorry Smilia yank me until I crack) without judging them, notice the texture and light of his surroundings, float on his pillow and mattress until these didn’t matter as circumstances in a world. He could return to this and it would make everything alright and worth it, but that wasn’t why you wanted me to meditate was it? (He wasn’t sure the ‘you’ now was Marzanna.)

He remembered the terror of absolute suspension between those poles - everything is possible and nothing matters, everything matters and nothing is possible. He had run back to the black solidity of the latter. Was he really about to open the white hole again?

Maybe he would associate it with her fantasy, as a preward. But he wouldn’t tell her that.

“Lacriz Aeeth…” A twinge of worry and even tenderness crossed the Master Superior’s face. “Has something happened to them? I had hoped they were doing well. They seemed to be, by the end of their stay, but they left without saying much.”

Nothing to worry about, they’ve only become the most wanted Dark criminal in the world, disrupting vital infrastructural magic using a structure of spell no one has ever seen before, that Preserves itself with other people’s Rhi. A structure of spell they most likely learned at this very Abbey, which was part of why she didn’t just open with all of this, besides compassion - for all she knew the whole Abbey could be in on it. (Was it safe to send her in alone?… she had a secure line to backup, a local contact sitting in a visibility-shielded coracle in the bay, an Inquisition base ten kilometers away…)

“Were there reasons you’d suspect otherwise?”

“Well, the circumstances of their arrival… How much background are you starting from here?”

“I know about their connection to the incidents at Romarosa. At least what they said publicly - unless they told you more.”

The university itself could withhold its internals until their request went through a convoluted vetting process, Silmenon gave them an infuriating amount of freedom. The only names in any of the public reports were the professor who lost their job - Dr. Fraxine Selbstember, Esteemed and Confidential Professor of Mysteries - and the victim - Izour Seullgyo, their research assistant. Lacriz Aeeth’s public enrolment record put them in the same year as Seullgyo, and they had listed the same high school, from a remote pier town in one of the southern fjords. There were no obvious connections to Dark themae in Selbstember’s research, which was fairly abstruse, mathematized work on the Order-Chaos interface in natural material systems. (Maybe a Druidic connection? The poem they had been looking for… but this was the theoretical perspective on natural systems furthest from Druid ones, as far as she could tell.)

“All the people from the university told me is that Selbstember breached the secrecy of certain Mysteries, either deliberately or by negligence. And of course all the dogmatists and thrill-seekers online ran with a pulp story about a 21-year-old undergraduate driven mad by forbidden knowledge… but I always thought it was just a pretext, a bow they put on a story that wouldn’t satisfy anyone any other way. The kinds of questions Aeeth would ask in confessions… were the kinds any normal person who’s lost someone that way would ask. Anyone who… I think they must have tried to stop them. Is everyone meant to live, does everyone really want to, how do you know if someone’s meant to, if a permanent death can deviate from Order how can Order ever be attained.” He paused. “You know, at one point, I think they asked the same question about love.”

“Love? What sense of…?”

“Well, I imagined they would have asked that question too. But it was a topic they seemed to have a particular fascination with.”

Something was jumping around the edges of her mind. “Were they interested in… love magic?”

“What, like making someone love them? I think it would have been the furthest thing possible from their-”

This was getting nowhere. The more she had to say out loud, the more something itched, the more something hurt. “No, like the ceremony I attended today. The brochure doesn’t talk about this, but it isn’t purely symbolic, is it? It’s a rhi recognition training - that’s why you perform it with your acolytes. Even ordinary lovers under ideal conditions are supposed to be able to find their way to each other by way of their resonating rhi.”

“Yes. But that’s not magic, just resonance.”

“Spontaneous synchronization at a distance is magic, by definition-”

“And there’s an entire field of Mysteries dedicated to understanding all the nuances of this definition.”

“And what about your work on it? This abbey’s, I mean?”

“Do you really think the Ecclesia would send someone they thought might have been traumatized by premature exposure to high-level Mysteries research to an institution still doing high-level Mysteries research? This Abbey hasn’t operated in that capacity since the Mysteries Department at at Romarosa was established in the first place. Our upper initiates - myself and six others, eight when Aeeth was here - have the same clearance as a tenured Mysteries professor. So I could read Selbstember’s papers, at least a few of them, except the ones that were suppressed when they were sacked. And we have scrolls from before - things only I’m allowed to read. We know the kinds of things you’d need to deal with someone compromised by that kind of exposure, even if we didn’t know the exact content of the exposure itself. That’s not what we dealt with. All I ever had the sense of was a very intelligent person grieving the loss of a friend, a friend they might have loved.”

“Very intelligent?”

“Lacriz Aeeth spent much of their time in the library - not reading anything especially related to Mysteries, we had people keeping an eye on them, mostly historical things, from before the distinctions were even established.” (The novels. Lacriz Aeeth had read the novels. Why had she forgotten Lacriz Aeeth - the Seer In The Half Light - reading the novels. What novels.) “Things I wouldn’t have expected someone without a grounding in historical magic and theology to be able to understand at all, but - they’d often ask questions about things they were reading in confession, and they were very perceptive at reconstructing unfamiliar conceptual frameworks simply from the internal relations between terms in a text, like translating an unfamiliar alphabet. They would also… watch ceremonies very closely, and one time I observed them meditating in a way I’d never taught them - performing the Mountain Spring Circulation, which I had been demonstrating a few weeks before. They never mentioned it, though. They were quiet - I myself preferred to learn quietly, so I let them be.”

“What was the most advanced technique you performed in front of them?”

They opened their mouth, then closed it several times, looking troubled. “I can’t remember.”

“What’s the most high-level you know?” She sharpened her voice like a sickle on a grindstone. “You may think your Monastery is special, sheltered from the eyes of the Sevenfold Alliance, but that doesn’t mean I only know what you’ve chosen to report. I know you’re capable of Preserving spells on Rhi patterns. Any documentation of this you haven’t shared, I am entitled to requisition under the eighth ratification of the Sevenfold Anti-Dark Counterterrorism Pact.”

He clamped the bridge of his nose in two fingers, nostrils flaring and collapsing, and blinked behind his foggy glasses. “It’s that serious? Can you…. Can you tell me what they’re involved in?”

Her eyes narrowed without moving. “How close were you exactly.”

“You haven’t lived in a Monastery. Here every heart is open to every other heart. A door is open that I am not entitled to close.”

“Yet you don’t know anything about what they wanted, what they knew, even what they read.”

“The heart is a labyrinth with inner and outer doors. The inner doors must must be guarded separately for the outer to remain open. This is one of the very principles today’s rite is meant to illustrate. To open the inner one must enter through the outer, yet to open the inner is a different kind of love.”

Braz glanced around the Master Superior’s office. The walls were lined with vaulted stone niches filled with scrolls, books with no titles on their spines, incense sticks and braziers, little clay abstract sculptures, a hourglass-shaped flask of bubbling precipitate that was probably Preserving some spell, implements for unknown ritual or improvised magic like a conch and a pheasant’s tail feather. “I set up an object interference spell before I came in here. Right now, your Rhi is the only thing you can Preserve magic on. And now,” she undid a silver button from the front of her coat and stretched it across her throat on an indigo thread, “I’m going to lock the door.”

The monk stood up and in a microsecond struck across the thread with his open hand. She dropped just as quickly beneath it and lunging forward swept him over the desk, pinning him to the wall.

“There are two difficulties with Rhi magic.” His voice was as measured as if he hadn’t lost any breath. “One is that you must be capable of defining - and mastering - a Circulation very precisely. The second, and the reason it was dropped as a subject of research, is that you must sacrifice your own possible internal states. I have mastered one, and it is not for use in combat, if you want a demonstration that badly.”

“What about… other people’s states.”

“Other people’s Circulation, you mean?” He blinked - it genuinely never seemed to have occurred to him. “To even set it as a condition you’d need to synchronize it with your own, like… sexual synchronization. That sounds like something out of one of Aeeth’s novels.”

“How much do you remember about these novels?”

“I can give you the full record of everything they checked out from the library, although they spent a lot of time reading in the stacks. You won’t find anything on Rhi-magic interaction - you’ll find a lot about love.”

Something unbearable was building up behind Braz’s eyelids and they closed them as they let the Master Superior slip down onto the desk and turned away. “You said they might have loved Izour Seullgyo. Can’t you tell? Like…. by their rhi circulation? Whether it was love or not?”

The Master Superior gave a startled laugh. “The Love Circulation? That’s an old holy grail, going back as far as that ritual you saw today - and a theoretical misconception. The more two people love each other - as current psychology understands it - the more unique their rhi resonance patterns become. That’s how something like the Rite of the Heart Labyrinth works - but it’s no use trying to recognize it from outside. It’d be indistinguishable from a random fluctuation.”

Nien 10 - was raging at a level of Helicopter Mage (flipstudio game from when I was like 12, found this backup site with an emulator lots of fun dogshit on here) and started doing Uninvented Circulation. just got really obsessed with synchronizing my finger movements with my breathing and kept getting owned. It would be easier if I could do this at the same time as other things. It would be easier if it didn’t count as doing a thing, but it does. Is there a scripture that talks about why?

Nien 11 - tried to do Uninvented Circulation through the last ten minutes an episode of The Clover Association for the lulz. noticed a weird smell in my left nostril, convinced myself there was a gas leak, almost pre-emptively suffocated myself with my pillow, went out in the hall and it was there too, kept smelling it for next ~4 hours. missed the dumbest episode ending yet, cunning of Order lol. Thanks_Sister.jpg

Nien 12 - skipped. but lay around doing nothing a lot, does that count? very rainy - weird night. <guess you would have seen too.

Nien 13 - ….////





657dv55bd46 qw352a4cts4biy8f4 56cqx3 (i (k)eys(m)a(s)h like a robot lul


MISSED MY FUCKING APPOINTMENT lmao this happened all the time with actual psychs lol. but it’s good I hadn’t even started on the homework. why do I have homework again. Sens-no I’m giving myself enough complexes Thanks_Sister.jpg (prayer hands emoji x57)

Nien 14 - fifteen mins Uninvented Circulation on the toilet. Why do I want to be in my body it’s just the same thing all the time and every time I notice it feels worse. thought I could observe something like time turning into shame as I observed it. <<wtf does that mean. ended up scratching my ass until I bled. Thanks_Sister.jpg [delete]

NYAN15!!! - @Suburbophile says hi. he would probably be better at this than me. he says his parents do the one you gave me (Blue Bell Circulation)??? do not look up what NYAN15 is [delete]

Nien 16 - was looking up that one thread RP comic based on the Thanks Sister reaction image where OP is the Eldest Sister of a monastic order that takes the sibling thing really literally [delete/modify] and decided to try the Blue Bell Circulation finally. I think I can describe the thing that happens normally [start with this, ignore rest of list]. its like I can sorta combo break whatever I’m already thinking about and roll for random thoughts (do I need to explain “roll” and “combo break”) but then the first new thing to stick in a loop will become a really strong loop. and whatever’s not any one thought still feels like a thing, like it’s a weight that I have to drop eventually. if nothing else I’ll start thinking about stopping, anything that’s like a little choice like that like do I stop or do I move becomes really unbearable. so unbearable it starts to feel like hurting myself and then if I do it long enough I’ll feel less scared of hurting myself. but I can write this because after about… twenty minutes? (I lasted twenty minutes on this? yes last time was fifteen but that’s Uninvented Circulation I can do anything on Uninvented Circulation I actually can’t do anything on Blue Bell I didn’t think I’d last five. the binaural beats helped probably.) ….anyway this shit hit different I couldn’t feel my body and now that I’m back I don’t feel it or the Currents or the screen really and can focus on the words like they’re flowing through a kind of gutter. I got a bit freaked out because I felt like I was falling, the way you feel like you’re falling in the middle of the night. it also felt longer than twenty minutes. help I’m still writing. why can’t I stop wri

Nien 17 - couldn’t sleep. felt like I wasn’t going to be able to go to sleep unless I did the Blue Bell Circulation at like 5:00 in the morning. I was already doing Uninvented the whole time but it was just counting. you know like how counting sheep doesn’t work? idk it probably does for you. you probably don’t draw the border in the same place. I can’t just like get bored with time. I don’t get distracted by it. sleep is just getting distracted from being awake. a border you can only cross by missing it. the more I pay attention the harder that gets, unless I look so close I don’t see it, like staring at a line until it disappears. and then everything disappears. you don’t want to start this. or maybe you do. I don’t know (You). I don’t want to start this. >implying

why am I still writing. what’s writing.







Nien 18 - have you ever heard of something called the Dawn Mist Circulation [send separately?]

He told Dr. Mark’eg about it, as always, like a sitcom episode. ‘This week I gave myself an eating disorder’. Laugh track.

And like a sitcom, it was already returning to the status quo. His mother had noticed him staggering off the bus after five days on however little his stomach couldn’t help but retain - all the doughy thickness of the cookies he was now sneaking from the convenience store on walks now floating up to his head - and tucked him into bed, gave him laxatives and oxbone broth, and on the way he’d had a tuna curry sandwich and could barely even notice the taste in his mouth as he meditated in the waiting room.

“Are you doing that for him?” Mom asked with a tone that suggested a set up for dismissal if he wasn’t.

“Yeah.” All week, he had kept meditating at lunch, hoping to recapture that first vision of the sky, although for the last three days it had clouded over. “Oh, I hope that helps then,” she replied with an airy sort of despair, no longer looking at him. He didn’t mention any connection between his practice and the week’s sickness - he felt sort of proud that she didn’t notice, and that he was doing it anyway. He still wasn’t sure whether to count it as more than a fluke, but he was expecting Mark’eg to tell him to stop when he explained everything - he found himself almost not wanting to explain everything, so he could keep doing it, but that was what his mind’s loyal opposition was for.

Instead, Dr. Mark’eg seemed positively encouraged, and wanted him to do more. This time he unlocked a filing cabinet behind his desk and handed Luskonneg a gold-foiled scroll, one that actually had illustrations of monks and devils, little corkscrew serpents with probosci like mosquitoes. The monk’s skin bursting into golden flame and his face and features, along with the devils, disappearing. “The Dawn Mist Circulation & Preliminary Exercises.”

The Dawn Mist was to be worked up to over the course of a week of exercises - combinations of the Uninvented Circulation, progressive muscle relaxation, temporary fasting and water consumption, visualizations (a floodplain, a stepwise waterfall, the borders of the body dissolving into golden motes) - at regular intervals that conveniently mapped to his breaks and meals. He didn’t attempt the Circulation proper until the end of the week, though once he had learned to sit still for it (it required at least thirty minutes to complete) he would be able to do it every day. (Like a medication, the “dosage” could be upped to an hour, even two hours at a time. Luskonneg hadn’t assumed a secular doctor could “prescribe” techniques like this.) By the end of the week he didn’t expect to be able to master even the first “dose” for months. Visualizations were a particular source of stress - on Zeparmine he had become almost aphantasic (increasing his dependence on anime, even without enjoyment, to restock his childhood image-reservoirs), and since stopping his intrusive thoughts had returned with more vividness than anything else (gore in particular honed to photographic precision by shock videos). In constructing images he had to borrow explicitly from visual techniques he had seen in drawings, and that seemed to collapse the images into the words he used to describe them, or the background radiation of his eyelids would simply eat through them. A process which would make the images paradoxically more literal: landscapes devoured by magma. He would start over, “not count” unsuccessful attempts, or just skip “reps” by procrastinating until the bell, “making up” with unlimited loops that replaced loops on homework or trying to sleep. By the end of the week, he was starting to see some of the images involuntarily when his eyes glazed over in class.

When he went up to the roof at the end of the week to make his first attempt, his eyes almost hurt from the strain of anticipation, and the sky was blown-out with sun.

He wondered how long until he would have the chance to drink that sky again. But for this one he had to close his eyes.

Close his eyes, relax his muscles, breath in a 3-5 pattern with a longer out breath than in breath, hold his hands slightly apart in front of his diaphragm, and expand his focus from his breath and the inner surface, to the outer, to the world around him and its edges – not forming any images. He noticed he wasn’t shutting his eyes as tightly, which helped - rather than pops of static and afterimages, a rose gold wash eroded the first hints of outline before they could take shape. Thoughts, on the other hand, swam freely in this amniotic fluid - so much that they slipped out of his grasp on their own and he couldn’t say if they had been there or not. He could feel it pooling where his hands had been, where his stomach had been, but those outlines too were more effort to form than not. What remained was a distinction between inside and outside, a membrane, equally present in all directions, like a circle, a cylinder, extending endlessly in two directions, above and below, or maybe the other axis, or it was the only axis, like one of those lab cylinders in -

That reference was the first image proper that formed in the Dawn Mist. And it didn’t form like the visualizations, a faint overlay shakily projected over the nonstop live feed of the senses or into the squirming chaos of a brain, a body scanning itself. It arose on its own all at once in the same way the body or the world arose. The consciousness in the tube only knew those existed because they were what had made and seen the image it suddenly had to tell itself not to jump to the conclusion that it actually was.

He tried to open his eyes, and he could have sworn it took several times for them to reform.

Well, that was something.

Was he supposed to stop?

He returned to class remarkably clear-headed, in the literal sense of feeling like all the gunk of vaguely tactile, referentless perception that spiderwebbed the area of inner space (the tube?) he associated with his head was gone, and in its place a silence that reminded him of the Zeparmine. When thoughts came, they branched and blocked themselves exactly as they always did, but in between them was a space where, even without directing his attention to it, the sound of his breathing echoed. He also noticed glittering floaters in his field of vision throughout the rest of the day.

Dr. Mark’eg reaffirmed that he wasn’t supposed to stop.

The Dawn Mist, which he entered three times that next week, wasn’t simply a pleasant or relaxing state. The same evil thoughts loomed up, and sometimes he couldn’t feel their borders, and sometimes their borders collapsed suddenly into the borders of the world. One time his own attention’s reaching from the innermost to the outermost stretches of what he assumed was there became a faceless female figure, made of a sticky pink substance like bubblegum, lodged deep in the cavity of [what he had thought he had been] and extending sticky strands out in all directions to the furthest stars to pull them into herself. He still hadn’t handed in his Theology assignments but had picked up enough by reading Shunny Najda threads to know that if someone put that image in an anime there would be interminable arguments, maybe even taken to the Poets’ Courts, about blasphemy.

Another time, his thoughts tried to resume an argument about whether the age on a Wiki page of the ice cube mascot he had masturbated to last night counted, and in the image that formed in the Mist, he was a fleck of cum brushed off the tip of an uncaring onyx sky.

But while in the Mist he lost track of time, and space, in general as he practiced it he started to find them clearer. He forgot what he was doing less. Instead he would forget why he was doing it. He finished some of his homework, even one of the Theology assignments (the words still didn’t make sense, but he found he could organize them in ways that sounded like they did, and check against the textbook) in a strange, distant state, as if he was waiting for something to happen, to unlock some other world, some other dream. Mom was more relaxed and more distant around him, finally finding the space to sink into her own memories and television dreams. He could pace all the way around the house and she wouldn’t stop him once to ask where he was going.

The night before his next appointment, he woke up in the early morning from a nightmare. He didn’t feel rested at all, and felt he had with great effort pulled himself out of a hell he couldn’t remember. He didn’t want to go back there, and at the same time felt like he had forgotten how. He spent the remaining hours until his alarm rotating a platinum sun behind his eyelids.

“It’s weird, right, how I went from being aware of my body as this cloud of bad feelings between me and everything else, to not being aware of it at all?” He was still laughing lightly, as if being weird didn’t make it particularly unlikely or untrustworthy. The image appeared of one of those towering summer clouds he was starting to recognize from the covers of visual novels and anime school rooftops, but in a sooty negative. “That’s not how people talk about it online, or how my mom talked about it when she brought it up years ago. You’re supposed to become aware of it, in like, a good way. Although that doesn’t make any sense to me either.”

“What would that mean to you? What do you imagine it meaning?”

He imagined something like the air on that day, the colour on that day, when he first stepped up on the roof. He hadn’t been thinking about his body but it was his body that had breathed it in, that had seen it, that it had filled. And it was his heavy brain that had tricked itself into seeing something in the colour that, if he looked through it the way he now looked through everything, couldn’t be there.

Instead, it felt like all his senses were a single flat projection around him. (A sphere would make more sense than a tube, but there was still this sense of extension along an axis.) The edge was no longer of his body but of this projection. And from the outside of it he could feel a buzzing, like a faulty fluorescent light, even when he was paying attention to something else.

There had been a similar flatness to the world on Zeparmine, but in a way it had been easier with nothing outside it. The flatness resolved into what he called the Mist if he simply moved his focus away from holding it or one of his usual chains of thoughts together, but the Mist was still an imperfect refuge; he would almost always be jolted out of it by some inexplicable thought or image, often multiple times in a session. He only once or twice tried to write these down, always finding himself stuck on some word. But he could shift through it to move his focus, which helped with things like work. Even as the longer he did it, the more the buzzing at the fringes and strange symptoms like floaters (sometimes as distinct as UFOs) took more of his effort to ignore. Maybe these were the same enemy forces he had first perceived as thoughts or shame or an inherent quality of time and things. But if this clarity gave him some way to fight them he didn’t know it.

In other ways it was better. His old therapist had asked him to visualize the future life he wanted, and he couldn’t because he couldn’t visualize anything; now he couldn’t because he didn’t want anything. He simply rearranged things until they were sufficient in the moment. If anything it now seemed strange how much people expected him to want things; to work on his education, or return, eventually, to practicing social skills - which produced no less overwhelming a fission of information needing to be rearranged. He couldn’t eavesdrop any more if he wanted to. Other people’s conversations were chem-lab fizzbombs of white noise from outside the bounds of his world. What had he ever wanted from them?

When he asked the question, Dr. Mark’eg would remind Luskonneg hated the things he wanted and the way he wanted them. He’d ask if really Luskonneg did want those things, or worse, want to not want them. Want to be stuck. Then when Luskonneg tried to separate the things he did want from the things he didn’t, he’d needle the definitions until they seeped clear fluid like sores.

Poring over yet another Theology worksheet - surely he could make these experiences relevant somehow - he wondered if this was how the Goddess felt at the centre of all things, encroached on all sides by the monotonous buzzing of Chaos. But if he wrote this he wouldn’t be able to explain the Hierogamy (you never had a girlfriend or a boyfriend or even a friend, his old self protested from the bottom of some echoing well, of course you can’t explain the Hierogamy), because why would the Goddess ever want to be reconciled with the Serpent.

Occasionally he would look up more tentacle H (a genre he had never been that into, preferring art that stayed as close to the real impossibility as possible, insignificant things about bodies he couldn’t help but notice) in hopes of understanding it, or if not, simply dousing his new perception of the world in that older acid bath. Always without directly looking it up, always setting up some convoluted series of searches that would end in him stumbling across it accidentally. (That was how he had gone from Ero-Guro Puzzlebox to full on ero-guro in the first place.) He got particularly attached to a single image, whose source anime he wouldn’t look up until years later, of a baby-fat green-haired girl in a swimsuit that looked just like his school’s lying in a stagnant pool of water covered in flowering algae that crept up over and under the suit’s elastic edge-bands, eyes fluffily closed and smiling like a frog.

The eating disorder never came back - the next casualty was sleep.

The forces, the algorithms, that attempted to hijack him whenever he meditated weren’t capable of penetrating the Dawn Mist, especially as he practiced it more, but strengthened from training against that more powerful opponent (or so he thought - he was still working through a 1000-chapter battle shonen he thought he would eventually get to talk to people about), they easily stormed the defenses of “lying on a questionably soft surface in the dark dreading the next day”. The count of seconds, which once would have been swamped by other thoughts and anxieties until they vanished under each other, now occupied him until he gave in and opened his eyes and watched the numbers on the alarm clock or his cell phone change. Boredom, which he had been training himself out of, couldn’t coldcock him any more. The Dawn Mist Circulation took all the faculties of simultaneous presence and forgetting he now recognized as the border between sleep and waking and redirected them to establish and erase a border between waking and something else. That something else, for its part, was distinguished explicitly from sleep in the metred text of the sutra Mark’eg had sent him.

There were, of course, specific meditations for sleep. He saw threads about them every time he went on /mo/ - they were largely ridiculed for diminishing the seriousness of the art. He joined in the ridicule. He was himself immersed in the seriousness of the art. If he tried to imagine, again, who he wanted to be, he could imagine himself as someone who “solved his problems with meditation”, or even someone who had a religious experience and lost interest in everything else (though he couldn’t very well write about that if he couldn’t even finish his Theology assignments, and that was turning into another abstract threshold that wasn’t the one he knew how to cross). But he couldn’t be someone who used it to get to sleep. And so, telling Mark’eg what he wanted to hear (for all he knew Mark’eg was reading those very threads - every now and then someone claimed to be a clinical psychologist), he didn’t even mention it until three weeks in, he was floating in on ten hours of sleep in seven days.

Floating - not stumbling. That was proof this was working - whatever process this was. He was already sleeping in the cocoon.

Winter was coming on, and it was getting too cold to go up to the roof every day. On the way to the gym building, shrugging his jacket around his shoulders, he saw one of the groups that hung out on the main building’s roof blocking a classroom doorway and being chided for it by a class rep. He took longer detours around the halls, keeping his eyes open for another quiet place. If he wanted to stick to narrative tropes, an abandoned clubroom. If he sat near the fence he could look out over the bare trees along the road and the horizon and imagine them as the tendrils of thought-static only the waves of his breathing could beat away.

Spreading and cracking and covering everything, perhaps, as those waves and the sky froze over.

There was some passage in the Theology homework about barren trees as traces of the Goddess’ dance and the Serpent’s coiling. An exercise with a photo of one, asking him to describe it as each, then both.

For one thing, it seemed impossible to expect high school students to write something like that, but everyone would freely admit they didn’t understand it and what they were really being graded on was imitation. But how could he imitate it if he really did experience the exact opposite? Just write it and turn himself in as- not a heretic, if he didn’t just get a bad grade they might ask him to go to therapy but he was already getting that and if it wasn’t helping…

He tried to tell Dr. Mark’eg about the growing feeling that he himself was wrong - not just some specific thing about him, not just a scalar exaggeration to everything he was and ever would be, but the thing he apparently was if he stripped away all of those things, as he was told he was making good progress doing. Also that he needed to find a new room and the meditation room would probably be if anything less tolerable now.

Dr. Mark’eg offered to make a note to his homeroom teacher or the guidance office for special accommodations. In the meantime, didn’t he know this was what it was supposed to do. The point was to dissolve his “self”, which he hadn’t liked, and kept getting in the way of itself.

- but without it there was nothing to get in the way of

- which was the point.

- But there’s supposed to be a “self” I return to, an inner core of Order as well as the Serpent-Self aspiring to it, and I don’t think that’s there because when I -

- and that’s what you’re discovering and identifying with, isn’t it?

- but it can’t be, because then everything that should be Order and Hierogamy is just more Chaos trying to wear me down, and I don’t even want to -

- yes, that’s the inversion. Do your Theology homework - maybe try meditating until you have a sentence, and if it’s not the right sentence, go back, until…

He somehow hadn’t thought of this before. How was he still hiding things like this from himself, while seeing everything about himself? He couldn’t stop now. He had to go all the way, until everything was what he couldn’t imagine it being.

The teacher told him he could use the nurse’s office if there was no-one there. He brought his work, promising himself to finish a season he had been putting off at home when he finished and actually enjoy it. The surface that wrapped itself around him before he closed his eyes was white and pale green and smelled like… he knew it was a different disinfectant but it almost smelled like chlorine. Almost thickened the air the same way, although it stung a bit. The fluorescent light, even with his eyes closed, seemed to take him somewhere cooler than that reddish-gold haze that for all its interdimensional transcendence he knew to be merely the same light through his eyelid capillaries, distributed by his drifting centre of perception. This was reality disinfected.

The surface inverted.

Now the tentacle, the intrusion into the universe, the rhizome-monster of stacked rubbish, an itch plugged into a tumour of numbness plugged into a a misfiring nerve sending up floaters like flares to its army of gauzy phantasms of sex and gore, was on the inside, not the outside of the membrane. The world was clean and bright and cool, like he had been trying to convince himself, but he didn’t want to go back in there and write it. No - there wasn’t a “he” to “go back in there” and write it. The world, Goddess and Serpent alike, was looking down in disgust on his body on the edge of the bed from the outside, creasing those stim-perfect starched white sheets - the overwrought cliche of astral projection of course just another imaginary parody it was throwing over itself - the real thing might look like a pillar of writhing flesh out of Tsÿo’s cosmic horror experiments.

But there was no way, from the outside, to disinfect that thing. The world was as helpless on the outside of its membrane as “he” had been on the inside. Except this had all begun with the bridge between the two - his breath. Why wasn’t the breath control he had learned enough to stop it once and for all? He could hardly hold it longer than he did in the pool. He coughed and spluttered. He made himself vomit into the plastic garbage can next to the bed. This was a nurse’s office, there had to be ways to empty more of it. He bolted to her desk, rattling cabinets, looking for needles, pills, scalpels. A long silver scissor curved like an ibis’ beak was shivering over the double bridge of his ulna when the nurse opened the door five minutes before the end of lunch.

That night when he resumed his Theology assignment, he was no longer afraid to lie.

He was only going to try it so he could write it down.

He hadn’t done that last time. And so, it had been lost, and he couldn’t even prove it had ever happened.

He couldn’t even believe it had ever happened. He was fucked up enough that there was no reason he couldn’t have simply fabricated several months of his life, was there? It wasn’t like he had been talking to anybody to say otherwise.

(It wasn’t like he was ever going to talk to anybody from the Public Morals Committee again, so for all he knew he might have fabricated that too. But maybe an investigative journalist from Yn Dahh’t could track them down - if he didn’t lose her interest first.)

All the negative effects he had experienced, you could find people talking about on /mo/ or blogs(or books probably, he didn’t read those). But when he described the way he reacted to them, it sounded like he got addicted, and every single source said that couldn’t happen.

Even if it wasn’t the meditation doing anything different, he wanted to protest, it was everything around it. But it was supposed to change everything around it.

If he was the one person in the world who could get addicted (it took him like eight tries to finish the sentence in his own thought) to meditation - then he hadn’t been addicted, he had simply been right. And everything straightened out to Order as it was meant to.

The theological discovery of the human glitch. Marzanna Etnexheyr wins the Tollbrann Prize.

Maybe there were others. Maybe they would be rooted out of their rooms after him.

But he was just going to try it once, and do it wrong, so she couldn’t prove it.

Besides, now that he was thinking of it, now that he was already halfway back there, he wanted to know what would happen if he did the Blue Bell and the Dawn Mist Circulation back to back.

Maybe he would actually, literally dissolve, and be freed from the tension of waiting to find out which of his fantasies would be demolished.

Maybe he would trigger some condition in himself so extreme it would force Marzanna Etnexheyr to intervene, not only for the sake of her story but the Covenant of Goodwill in her contract with the government and Ecclesia. Put him somewhere people would monitor his internet usage but admit it wasn’t all his fault.

Until they discovered it was.

Or maybe absolutely nothing would happen. The Blue Bell Circulation, according to the sutra, was meant to feel the extent and edges of one’s own Rhi field. It was often used as a preparation for martial arts techniques that used rhi, which was presumably why that woman knew it.

(Maybe she was going to teach him to fight, and send him on crazy missions like hunting down the terrorist who had taken out the power and started all this. If he survived this.) These were the kinds of fantasies he had stopped having years ago (although he’d had them most in the first couple years out of high school, when there had been no realistic life to measure them against, no reason not to).

At this point he was starting to want a hard reset to get rid of them - whatever else it brought.

He cleaned again, clearing a loosely circular space in the centre of his floor. Stains had seeped into the boards anyway. It wasn’t clean, it was a pond.

Smilia wouldn’t mind. She would visit him here on Slina’s territory. He still couldn’t find any yuri of the two of them what the fuck.

But the afternoon light was already starting to look stained and sticky in its own right, and he had almost spent an entire day avoiding this, hadn’t he.

There was a cruelty he enjoyed to cutting off his focus from anything other than his breath, when and only when he knew he would stick with it past any end outside it. Like joining a cult in his mind.

Maybe that was why he was doing it wrong. None of the texts emphasized this, but it was the only way he could make it work for himself. That didn’t explain why he was doing it wrong.

But why did that matter, if he wasn’t the one doing it wrong anyway?

He couldn’t cut anything unless he could cut everything.

He wasn’t going to remember any of this to write it down.

Maggots were crawling at the back of his eyes. If he tried to open them they would burst and spill all over the floor.

Ahhh, that was more like it.

He didn’t open his eyes, and they opened inside themselves.

A rippling sun of white magma without time. He observed the ripples without counting them. He didn’t have eyes to worry about opening.

Some body was counting time at the edges but like a rapidly dropping health bar it was falling away.

It could feel the vibrations of its breath stretching out on either side of what it had been like butterfly wings, like two loops of a magnetic field, like lungs outside its lungs.

It switched to the Dawn Mist Circulation.

Struck the vibrating glass.

A note to shatter the windows.

The bounds of the field dissolved and seeped out… and washed against something heavy and dark.

He had never felt this before. There had been shadows, unevenness in the light, but they tended to disappear, like thoughts, in a few more breaths. Whereas now the more he extended his consciousness - the vibrations of the Blue Bell a kind of radar in the Dawn Mist - the more clearly he could feel them. Discrete objects, jagged rocks in the waters, although they weren’t like images taking hold of his loosened consciousness either - simply blocks of nothing. Towering rocks - cliffs - to which his waters were shallows. On either side he encountered them - in rough semicircles around the furthest reaches of his field lines, beyond which they interfered into darkness. How were they so consistent? As he focused more on them and felt around their edges he even found he could count them - six, eight, up to ten and then no more.

There were ten knots of dense, self-effacing energy floating around him. In whatever space he inhabited. He was almost afraid to open his eyes - as if he might see them in the room. But maybe he would see them if he adjusted to his eyes being closed, to seeing in the light. See what? He half expected one of his recent delusions like the skull to jumpscare him again, but this didn’t feel like that. As real as that had felt, as uncontrollable, it had been flickery and flat, a mental image like any other. No, these alien presences - and they were presences, breathing and pulsing in their own right - might even be the source of his delusions. The reason - had there been one all along? was that wishful thinking? - he couldn’t extend to his outermost or innermost limits and come back -

He had to come back. He tried to focus again on his breath, the centre of energy between his hands.

They were spinning there, too, like bats in the sun.



He opened his eyes reflexively and recognized what he had gone as far as to perceive as a low rumbling voice as his stomach. There were no distortions in the air, just dust drifting reluctantly down its end of day commute. It had been five minutes.

Marzanna’s follow-up call with Luskonneg confirmed what she had noticed the first time. There was something extremely odd about this man’s Rhi. Ten things, to be exact.

This gave some context as to why the Inquisition was so interested in him. And that after she relayed this information back, they didn’t simply take him in to some facility where someone qualified could figure out what was going on suggested that they already knew. This didn’t necessarily bother her. It was their job to have reasons they couldn’t just tell everybody. Her sense that not everything was as it appeared, she could still insist to herself, was neither conspiratorial nor heretical. Those were simplifying aesthetics - she wanted to explore hidden complexities. Frailties, flaws.

Their next instruction, however, was straining her capacity for trust.

Knowing what she knew now - both the weird stuff and just how he talked and acted - she didn’t even particularly want to be in a room with Luskonneg herself. Let alone someone who hadn’t even volunteered as an Asset, someone considerably more physically and emotionally vulnerable than her.

And at this point - although they didn’t necessarily know this - probably the most precious person in her life.

If they knew enough to pull off a strategy (and for what she had absolutely no idea) like this without investigable endangerment - why would they need to do it this indirectly? And if they didn’t, they were being extremely stupid delegating it to, of all people, an Yn Dahh’t licensed investigative journalist. Even she wasn’t allowed to probe the absurd tiers of confidentiality indicated on her instructions, but she knew from precedent that if she could prove that they were being abused, she could win the right retroactively. The double contradiction didn’t leave many possibilities that weren’t conspiratorial or heretical. But it didn’t leave many of those either.

Or rather, it left too many, all so far from the reach of Maullan’s Razor that it was impractical to even think of them.

Maullan’s Razor did say, if whatever this was had been going on all his life, it wasn’t likely to break out of control now. (Unless, say, they had been feeding people to a monster this entire time.) Gallvren would probably be safe - as a one-time, temporary asset.

Invoking an Anti-terrorist Covert Mobilization exemption (that - adding insult to injury - Marzanna recognized from having written an editorial against in high school), the instructions specified that she was only to be informed if her mobilization was extended.

She could only smile bitterly at the subheader she might get to use if she blew this all open someday, and hope it wasn’t too prophetic: Am I my roommate’s handler?